Providers step up to help young children settle back into early years care

Nurseries, childminders and playgroups in North Yorkshire are continuing to help babies and young children to get used to being outside the home and around new faces, as more parents in the county prepare to return to work.

Early years providers in North Yorkshire have provided a safe, happy environment for babies and young children since the start of the pandemic.

As well as ensuring the wellbeing of young children, they supported parents as they were called on to fulfil key critical roles, train or continue with other work. Those providers that couldn’t remain open during the lockdown often remained in touch with families by providing home learning packs, online story times or other support. 

More parents are expected to return to work as indoor hospitality reopens on May 17 and further restrictions will potentially be lifted in June, meaning nurseries, childminders and playgroups will welcome even more children and families.

Director of Children and Young People’s Services Stuart Carlton said: “North Yorkshire’s Early Years providers were an important part of the county’s pandemic response since entering lockdown last year and we thank them for the hard work they put in. It enabled many parents in the county to take up key worker roles and provided important routine and safe care for the youngest children.

“Now that ever more parents are returning to work, they have an equally important role in helping children get used to being around other faces again.”

As parents continue to return to work, nurseries, childminders and playgroups are continuing their safety and hygiene measures, supported by our Early Years team, and distributing home testing kits for coronavirus to staff and families. They are also supporting our distribution of holiday food vouchers for families who may be struggling to cover the cost of food or other essentials.

Many of the county’s early years settings are now almost back to the attendance levels they had prior to the pandemic, and are now gently getting babies and young children used to being outside the home and around people again.

Owner of Little Rainbows Nursery in Whitby, Lydia Sythes, said they were almost full to capacity, as more parents returned to work. She said reintroducing other children and babies to nursery after lockdown had to be done carefully.

“When children came back we could tell they had spent a lot of time at home and the big issue was separation anxiety – they’d had no interaction with anyone outside their home,” said Lydia.

“All the baby groups had stopped and even going to a grandparent’s house on an odd day wasn’t something they had been able to do. A lot of parents said their baby or child hadn’t met anyone other than themselves over lockdown.

“We responded by increasing our settling-in practices, especially with younger one. We took the lead from the children on how confident they were being back in a nursery setting.

“We also made sure the children see the same members of staff each time and were looked after in smaller rooms, which are made to look homely, so children who have just been at home were not suddenly in a big, overwhelming place with lots of new people.”

Parent Danielle Zecca found nursery care invaluable when she had to find childcare for her one-year-old daughter.

“I’m a keyworker and a student midwife, and when the pandemic began we got pulled from theory to practical, so we were working in the wards constantly. It meant my daughter had to go to nursery,” she said.

“It was scary; we were in a global pandemic and nobody knew what was happening.

“The nursery I sent her to – Jigsaws in Catterick – was absolutely brilliant. They took her on mid-term.  

“You could see there was a lot of work for a nursery caring for children during the pandemic. They needed a lot of toys as they had to be rotated and cleaned and there had to be a lot of other measures, such as special drop-off and pick-up arrangements in place, but my daughter loved it and it gave me peace of mind as well.”

Jigsaws Nursery in Catterick Garrison, owned by directors Caroline Ovenstone and Paula Woolridge, provided childcare for many keyworker families, including doctors, care home staff, nurses and military families.

They also cared with children with extra needs. Many young children with special educational needs or disabilities struggled with the sudden change to their routine brought about by the pandemic.

One parent, Stacey Robinson, said her four-year-old son, Joshua, has non-verbal autism and struggles with being out of routine, so being able to continue to send him to nursery proved a lifeline.

“Being out of routine is really difficult for Joshua; he physically can’t cope with it. He is non-verbal and has lots of extra needs. At home, he would come and bring me my shoes because he wanted to go out. It was really, really tough. A combination of being out of routine and not understanding what was happening really changed his behaviour.

“Because of this, Jigsaws still accommodated his hours at nursery. When he started going back, he was like a changed boy. He just picked up the routine he had had with them.”

Cllr Patrick Mulligan, Executive Member for Education and Skills, said: “Without the critical work of the county’s childminders, nurseries and playgroups in supporting families and young children, the pandemic response would have been very different.

“We’re enormously grateful for their support and hard work throughout the last year.”